Towers of Need: ‘Canstruction’ sculptures turn spotlight on importance of aiding hungry Tucsonans

click to enlarge A volunteer helps build a “canstructure” at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona’s “Build Day,” at the Park Place Mall on Saturday, June 4. The summer fundraiser, Canstruction, is a friendly building competition among local architects, engineers and builders to raise awareness for food insecurity during the summer months. - PHOTO BY KATYA MENDOZA
Photo by Katya Mendoza
A volunteer helps build a “canstructure” at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona’s “Build Day,” at the Park Place Mall on Saturday, June 4. The summer fundraiser, Canstruction, is a friendly building competition among local architects, engineers and builders to raise awareness for food insecurity during the summer months.

If you see a Gila monster and a rattlesnake inside of the Park Place Mall over the couple of weeks, don’t run away. It’s just the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona’s summer fundraiser, Canstruction Tucson: Build for Hunger.

Four teams made up of local architects, engineers, builders and many volunteers assembled thousands of canned foods into Southwestern-themed sculptures.

The art installation will be on display through Saturday, June 18, allowing the public time to select their favorite “cansculpture” and vote online for a $1 donation. The team and sculpture who earns the most votes will receive the “People’s Choice Award.”

“Build day is always so much fun, getting together with your colleagues and working towards the same goal and helping the community,” said Laura Vertes, a member of the AZ Wildcans. Her team, which was a collaboration between Swaim Associates and DPR Construction, stacked about 4,500 cans together into an 8-foot A-Mountain backdrop and a larger-than-life Gila monster.

Shannon Shields, a project engineer for Lloyd Construction, pieced together approximately 1,800 cans into a “modified Arizona Wildcat, western diamondback rattlesnake” named Daniela with her team, the Sustenance Strike Force.

The We-Think-We-Cans team built a 9-foot-tall saguaro cactus, using cans of tuna fish, hominy and instant mashed potatoes as well as assorted tea bags for saguaro blooms.

“It took us maybe a week or so to come up with the concept,” said team captain Shawn Curtis, a senior project manager and architect at a.23 Studios.

Kathleen Hackathorn, who works in the engineering CIP department at TEP, said, “We are going to energize your ride.” Using roughly 2,000 cans, Tucson Electric Power built a replica of an electric vehicle charging station in the southwest.

Canstruction is a friendly building competition for local and corporate sponsors, allowing all proceeds to benefit the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. The event brings awareness to the issue of food insecurity during the summer months when Tucsonans have an increased need for food assistance.

Community Food Bank event coordinator Suling Lam said there is an increased demand for food during the summer months when kids are out of school.

In the last year, there was a 31% increase of meals served from school pantries in Southern Arizona, providing 551,970 meals to students. One in four kids in Arizona are at risk for hunger.

In a state that has the 14th highest rate of childhood hunger in the country, 20% of children in the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona’s service area are food insecure, meaning that at some point during the year, a household will report difficulty accessing adequate nutritious food for all family members due to a lack of resources.

A food insecure household may find themselves having to make the decision of paying bills or having breakfast, said Rebecca Bommersbach, the Community Food Bank’s youth and family programs coordinator, during a presentation on May 26.

“Or not being able to afford to drive to a grocery store to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables,” Bommersbach said, “or a single mom sacrificing her meals so that her children can eat instead.”

Food insecurity and hunger are economic issues.

“Common causes are low wages, underemployment or unemployment, lack of affordable housing, lack of access to healthcare and systemic and racial discrimination,” Bommersbach said. “Households of color are disproportionately affected.”

In the wake of COVID-19, the Community Food Bank has only seen those numbers increase. The outbreak has exacerbated existing disparities in poverty, hunger and health outcomes, according to Bommersbach.

Even before the pandemic, summer time has always been a difficult time for families struggling with food insecurity.

“Children whose families do qualify for free and reduced lunch under the federal school nutrition program are able to receive free meals at school during the school year but when summer hits without those free meals to rely on, suddenly parents are faced with the extra cost of meals for their children on weekdays over the summer,” Bommersbauch said.

While some school districts throughout the country do provide summer meals during summer school programs, these don’t last the entire summer. Parents can also run into other problems preventing their kids getting a summer meal, such as issues with scheduling, transportation or child care.

Grant-funded programs such as the Summer Breakfast Program by the Nourishing Neighbors, sponsored by the Albertson’s and Safeway Foundation, are made possible by donations from shoppers at those stores. The foundation helps provide breakfast snacks and weekend breakfast packs for families during the 10 weeks out of the summer, providing relief for families experiencing food insecurity.

Fundraising events such as Canstruction seek to call attention to the issue of food insecurity and childhood hunger. The Community Food Bank is always accepting donations and offers various opportunities for volunteering, contributing towards their vision of a “healthy, hunger-free community.”

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